Clark seniors celebrate Juneteenth
Freedom, emancipation and liberation are words typically associated with Juneteenth Day, a day recorded in history as a life-changing event for African-Americans. It was the end of an era filled with pain — now celebrated as a time that is gone, but not forgotten.
On June 16, the Richard R. Clark Senior Center in La Plata
hosted a free Juneteenth event, beginning with several song selections from the senior center gospel choir, a fashion show, door prizes, poems and readings about the history of Juneteenth, a free soul food luncheon, and a skit performed in front of 170 guests.
“Many people don’t know about Juneteenth and before my job, I had never heard about it,” said Florence Robey, 71, center coordinator. “But I love history and I think it’s important that we remember where we are from. I wanted this Juneteenth program to give a sense of pride to local residents and I wanted it to be an uplifting event. I didn’t want people to leave and feel heavy, but I wanted it to be a joyous event and that’s how it turned out.”
Elaine White, a coordinator for the Juneteenth event, read about the history of Juneteenth — also known as Freedom or Emancipation Day — during the senior center’s celebration. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It’s an annual celebration of the date the Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. Texas was the last state in rebellion of ending enslavement almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. From its Galveston origin in 1865, the June 19 observance spread across the U.S.
A memorable moment of the center’s Juneteenth celebration was the skit performed by several seniors. The skit told the story of an enslaved family including Charlotte, Jim and Nellie, their daughter. The family’s lives are turned upside down when their daughter is sold by Master Tom and sent to work for another plantation owner in Texas. Many years after Juneteenth occurred, the parents found their only daughter in an effort to reunite their family.
“There was some broken language throughout the skit and it was a little bit of an uneasy feeling, but it made the crowd laugh as well,” White said.
Robey said all of the seniors loved and enjoyed the skit. Many were shocked to learn that many slaves separated from their families before emancipation were never found.
Bettie Cochran, 71, a La Plata resident, played Charlotte. She said the skit conveys how slave masters did not care about keeping slave families together and how the slave masters carried out devious acts. She believes her character helped give the audience a clear picture of some of the history and important events that happened during that timeframe.
“Florence Robey brought Juneteenth Day to my attention three years ago and I thought it was amazing,” Cochran said. “Through my character Charlotte I tried to illustrate how important it is for people to know their history. Once I internalized that it could have been my own child, just taking in the feeling of someone taking my own child, I was able to put myself into the situation and I could imagine how Charlotte felt. The feeling was deep and hurt so bad to know that I would never see my daughter again. I had to hold my tears back at that time.”
Master Tom was played by Tom Glisson, 81, a La Plata resident, who said he was honored to be chosen to participate.
“My part in the play — as the white slave master, Tom — had a lot of meaning to the cast, to the audience and especially to me because many whites felt ashamed about what was done to slaves,” Glisson said. “I know Juneteenth is a celebration because it was the end of a not-so-great time for African-Americans in that era. I can’t imagine what it was like and I’m glad to help bring an understanding for all people, especially if doing the play helps heal those who were descendants of slavery.”
White said that times have changed, and we are still in an era when progress must continue. She said Charles County should continue to celebrate and remember Juneteenth Day just as Black History Month is celebrated.
“I hope people realize that although those events occurred during when slavery existed, everybody should not hold hate and bitterness, but to love each other as a whole,” White said.
On June 16, the Richard R. Clark Senior Center Gospel Choir performed several selections, including “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” at the Juneteenth celebration at the Richard R. Clark Senior Center.
On Jun. 16, during a skit being performed at the Richard R. Clark Senior Center, parents who learned that they are now freed from slavery were able to find their long lost daughter who was previously sold by their master, Tom.
On Jun. 16, local seniors performed a skit at the Richard R. Clark Senior Center, In this part of the skit, an enslaved family featuring Charlotte, the mother, Jim, the father, and Nellie, their daughter are struck with grief as their slave master takes away their daughter to be sold and sent to work for a plantation owner in Texas.